A/N: Props as always to Lakewood for his beta work, as well as everyone who took the time to leave a review. I try to take criticism to heart, so don't hesitate to take me to task or point out errors or flaws.
If anyone here reading this is actually from Connecticut, send me a PM or an E-mail. I don't know enough to really localize this without turning it into a touristy seaside CT town or a city like Hartford, so any input onto life and culture in Connecticut will be much appreciated. I just drove through the state for Anime Boston and it was a beautiful ride, that's for sure.
2 – Real Genius
Near Heliopolis High
"So who was that guy?" Cagalli looked over at her brother as she shifted into third.
The rising whir of the Hierophant's engine was a comforting spin, but not so much as comforting as the battery charge needle slowly and surely spiraling upwards.
"Just someone I thought I used to know…" Kira faded out, looking out the window.
"I'll see you at Pequot…"
"An old friend. I guess he's a ZAFT student now."
"You OK? You look sick."
"Huh? No, I'm fine."
The whir permeated the car, drowning out the silence. Kira wasn't willing to talk, and Cagalli wasn't willing to pry.
They arrived home. Kira tossed his notes on the couch, having no intention at all to work on Mr. La Flaga's assignment. He took the stairs up two at a time, closing the door to his room behind him.
Athrun… Kira pulled up an old mesh-back office chair from his computer desk, staring at his monitor. The only movement was the screen saver, a small green and yellow mechanical bird. Kira idly moved the mouse around and the screen saver snapped off. The bird retreated to a corner of the screen. "Torii!" it called, the sound projecting itself from well-concealed computer speakers.
"Bring up today's news," Kira said depressingly. The bird flapped its wings and "flew" into a web browser, bringing up a series of news feeds that Kira subscribed to. He didn't feel like reading them, but he knew it would give the bird something to do.
We left on good terms. It's not like I don't still count myself as your friend… if you count me as yours…
"Oh, um… bring up my E-mail."
Another flight into his mailbox. I never get spam any more thanks to what you made for me, Athrun, Kira thought, skimming over a mass mail to the Heliopolis High stage crew.
From: La Flaga, Mu
To: HHS Stage Crew (All)
Subject: This year's production
"Good afternoon, I'm just sending everyone a really quick heads-up. We're going to start set construction for Godot next week. Measurements, planning, and light configuration will all take place simultaneously. You all did a great job with the summer kids and The Pajama Game, and this one's going to be a real kicker. The Drama Club is holding auditions while we're working. They have the costume prep room, so get what you need before they start. We'll meet in the auditorium after school next Wednesday. Any questions, come see me.
Mr. La Flaga"
Kira moved the mail to his hard disk and rolled the chair away from the computer. "Why would he take the mascot?" he mused out loud, running a hand through his hair. "What was he doing? Ever since the Bloody Valentine, we've been at odds with ZAFT and this is just the next step upwards."
Near ZAFT High
"I can't believe we really did it!" Nicol exclaimed, triumphantly holding up the arm of the Strike. "We really stole their mascot!"
"Those bastards had it coming!" Yzak proclaimed. "We'll show them that ZAFT doesn't take injustices lightly!"
"Injustices aside, maybe we should hold it hostage." Dearka grinned evilly. "Let's take photos of us with black masks and plastic swords or something. We can behead it! Right, Athrun?"
"Right," Athrun said, his voice still muffled from wearing the Strike mask. Dearka's Buster didn't have much back seat room; he'd been forced to throw the helmet on just as they had sped away. "But what if they try to get us back?"
"Then we'll get them back," Yzak seethed. "Whatever they do, we can do better. We're Coordinators! We're the ones who're destined to make things right that those Naturals mess up!"
Dearka nodded and Athrun tuned them out just as Dearka made a joke about "coordinating your mother last night" to provoke Yzak.
You went to their side, Kira? He stared out the window, again halfway at his reflection and halfway at the countryside. The gates of ZAFT High flew by them.
"Hey, Athrun!" Dearka's voice called from the front seat.
"I was asking if you needed a ride home."
"Oh, yeah… no thanks, I'll be fine. My father's chauffeur should be waiting for me by now."
"Okay. Hey, we're going to Minerva's this weekend. You should come along."
"Why does he have to come with us!" Yzak shouted. "If he wasn't bumbling all over the parking lot, we'd-"
"It's a really cool place. Half arcade, half club and restaurant. A lot of us go there."
"I didn't really have any plans…" Athrun said. Does Lacus go to Minerva's? "Sure, that sounds like fun."
Dearka pulled up beside the Bentley. "See you tomorrow. Oh, hey, come early. Class selections start and the lines can be a killer."
"How early is early?"
"If the sun is up, you're too late. What's your cell? We'll keep you posted."
Athrun laughed a little. "I'm sure it's not that bad." He took off the mask, slipped it into the back seat, and swapped cell numbers with Dearka. The robotic head blankly stared back at him, as accusing as a mask could look. "See you guys."
His driver was waiting patiently. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Angus," Athrun apologized. "I didn't keep you too long, did I?"
"Nary a problem, young master," Angus replied. "Will you be going straight home?"
Athrun thought for a moment. "Can we stop at Radio Shack first?" I have an idea…
"But of course, Master Athrun."
The Yamato residence
Kira poked at his dinner. A partially disassembled piece of chicken, a barely dented serving of mashed potatoes, and a handful of baby carrots populated his plate.
"Kira, what is it already?" Cagalli protested. "If you don't like my cooking, feel free to open up a package of ramen or something."
"No, that's not it," Kira said, forcing himself to cut a piece of chicken off. It really is lousy, but mine is worse, he reflected upon chewing and swallowing the dry chicken breast. "I guess it was just a long day."
"It was a pretty long summer, wasn't it," Cagalli agreed. "It seems like I came back from Orb ages ago."
"Yeah, it was pretty rough with us being running around all year. I had my job and teaching the stage crew for the summer program… you were working, unpacking, moving your stuff in from Orb."
Cagalli put her fork down on her plate and her elbow on the table. "Mom and Dad were really sad to see me go back to Heliopolis," she said, then caught herself. "I mean, going back home."
"We only really met each other a few months before you left for Orb. That was just before the end of junior high…"
"Kira, I think you did pretty good for yourself since then."
"Yeah, I suppose. It was tough without Athrun, too."
He didn't realize what he'd said until he said it.
"Don't worry, there'll definitely be space for you," he said to the other boy, handing over a burned CD. "Your parents will let you come to Pequot, right?"
"I hope so," he said, taking the CD and holding it close. "I'll miss you until then."
"Don't worry, it won't be long!"
"It's been tough," Kira idly remarked.
"Yeah." Cagalli forked a carrot and stared at it idly. "I wonder what he's doing these days?"
"What are you doing here… and what are you doing in the Strike!"
"That's what I'd like to know! Why are you here in Heliopolis? This isn't where you belong!"
"I wish I knew."The Zala Residence
2 Brighton Yard Avenue
He couldn't even concentrate on the class selection site. Just in the same way that he wasn't able to concentrate on his PC, his handbook, his post-application paperwork, or the newspaper.
Athrun stared at the half-assembled hollow metal sphere in front of him. Its primary logic circuit had already been bolted down into the lower half, and a set of small hydraulics protruded from the circuitry. He'd already sprayed a coat of primer on the exterior, and it had most of the external parts already constructed. The beginnings of a Haro.
The software versions moved up from the first Torii that I developed, he remarked idly. Kira volunteered to beta-test it. Just before we moved to Heliopolis.
He typed a quick command into his computer. Linked to a test line, the Haro's hydraulics expanded in response. "I can't accept it!" the tiny onboard speaker screamed out.
He's on the other side. How long has he been with Heliopolis? Since before the Bloody Valentine? Afterwards? Was he there to watch the Haroball team practice? I don't know what he's done, but that was Kira Yamato. Kira Yamato is the enemy of ZAFT…
The Haro, powered off, joined the pile with his handbook and post-application paperwork, just to the side of the newspaper.The Yamato Residence
Kira typed the last command into the compiler program, then clicked the "Start" button. The Torii system assistant program hopped on its digital feet over to the system icon on his desktop. "Torii!" it shouted out as a prompt came up. Good, it's diverting the resources. Nine hours to recompile the kernel.
Kira shut off his monitor and speakers and climbed into bed, not really anticipating the next day. He'd read some token bits of the article that Mr. La Flaga had assigned, a summary piece on Governor Clyne's successful recall campaign. He'd highlighted bits about his daughter, a student around his age, who had stunned the media and supporters with her beautiful singing voice and appearance. It didn't matter to Kira; he wasn't yet of voting age and didn't really care much about fiscal policy, or even the massive fraud allegations that had prompted the recall.
Tomorrow's another day, he thought, rolling over in bed with the lights still on. I guess everyone's going to be up in arms about Strike being stolen.Heliopolis High
Tuesday, September 7th
He couldn't have been more right.
"Kira, you really saw it?" Sai leaned forward over the cafeteria table. Flay never came to school any earlier than she had to.
"Yeah, while we were waiting for a jump-start. A bunch of ZAFT students rode up in a car and the guy in Strike jumped in. Mr. La Flaga and the Haroball team chased after them a bit, but they were gone before we knew it." Kira was only paying half attention to Sai, Tolle, and Kuzzey. The rest was on the Newsweek and highlighter that he held. "That was that."
"Wow." Tolle yawned and scratched his head. "I guess all the teams are going to call for the heads of ZAFT this season."
"Tolle, you only go to the games for Milliaria," Kuzzey pointed out. "Since when did you get so interested in all this?"
"Everyone's talking about it. It's natural."
"Seriously. Kira, you should have tried to stop them!"
"Yeah!" Sai threw his arm around Kira's neck in a playful headlock. "You coulda been a hero to the school!""You were going to go to Pequot… we could even go to ZAFT together…"
"Yeah, I guess." Kira struggled out of Sai's lock and highlighted a few lines from a description of asset redirection before the recall campaign. "I didn't really know what to do, that's all."
Kira looked over his shoulder. At a table in the back, near the vending machines, a clique of Haroball players sat in the old overstuffed couches. They were visibly seething; one was even throwing a Haro against the wall repeatedly. It gave a satisfyingly hollow thunk every time it hit the painted brick wall. None of them were smiling.
"Why does the Haroball team care that much anyway?" Kira wondered out loud. "It's not like they kidnapped a cheerleader or something like that."
"Hey, we're irreplaceable!" a perky female voice teased from behind him, aside the table. Kira turned.
"Oh, hey Mil," Kira said, raising his hand in a greeting. "Sorry to hear about Strike."
Miriallia Haw shrugged and sighed. "ZAFT messed with us, we messed with them. Everyone's to blame. I just hope they don't mess with the fields again. Jenny sank about three feet when they liquefied the fifty-yard line." She pulled up an errant chair and sat down next to Tolle. "Word has it that the Haroball team's going to hit them back and hit them hard. Oh well. Kira, are you going to work at the concession stand again this year?"
"I'll pass. I've got too much on my plate. After the summer drama program, I'm probably going to be doing way more lighting crew stuff than normal." Kira rolled his eyes. "All this responsibility isn't worth looking good on a college application."
"Psh. Kira, you'll get in anywhere you want." Kuzzey brushed off Kira's remark with a wave and a smile. "It's people like us who're only good in history that aren't going to get a decent job."
The warning bell rang. "Hey, guys!" Miriallia held them up, throwing an arm around both Kuzzey and Kira as they stood. "We're going to Minerva's after school. Flay's dad got her that Manta she always wanted. She's probably going to show the new toy off. Why don't you come down? It'll be fun to prod her." Milliaria grinned, the corners of her mouth pertly upturned.
I haven't been there in forever. When we came here in our last year of school before junior high, we went to Minerva's once when our parents were going around town.ZAFT High
That same time
Athrun didn't even bother riding up to the gate. The line stretched outside the border of the school and halfway toward the street. All ZAFT students, all mixed years, all with the same blue sheet of paper in hand.
He stared down at his as the Bentley did a K-turn and drove back home.
"So much for advanced mechanical engineering," he moaned. "That and microelectronics, physics, even tethered swimming…"
His cell phone vibrated from his jacket pocket. Fishing it open, he managed to flip it open. "Hello?"
"Yo, it's Dearka. Come on up to the shrubs by Amuro Hall. We saved a spot for you in the most wonderful way," a familiar jovial voice sounded from the speaker.
"Tell that bastard to hurry up!" a harsh shout followed.
"I'll be right there." He flipped the phone closed and started heading up the school driveway.
At least, he started.
"Um…" a nervous voice ventured from the line. "Excuse me, are you Athrun Zala?"
Athrun turned. The source was a second-year, judging by the white trim on his uniform. "Are you the same guy who got the Naturals yesterday?"
"Huh?" Athrun's eyes went wide. "Who told you that?"
"He did!" the student exclaimed defensively. "Right, Bourne?" The timid student shoved the guy in front of him towards Athrun. "You heard it and told me, right?"
"I heard it from her!" Bourne excitedly gestured to a blonde girl in front of him.
"Nope, she told me." The girl gestured to the girl in front of her, who in turn silently pointed forward.
"I think I get it…" Athrun's shoulders slumped as he slowly made his way up the line. Faces turned to look and whispers followed in his path. "I think I get it a little too well."
The line, approaching a half-mile long, had its front at Amuro Hall and its finely landscaped entrance. Amongst the trimmed shrubs was, just as Athrun had stolen it, the Strike mascot costume, suspended on a biology classroom skeleton.
"There he is!" someone called out as Dearka, Nicol, and Yzak noticed him approach. "There's the man who stole Strike!"
A sudden peal of applause broke out down the line. "Athrun, you're the man!" someone yelled out. "Will you go out with me, Athrun?" a girl followed. "Me too!" a voice that definitely came from a football player called out.
"Looks like you're the hero of the day, Athrun," Nicol grinned.
"Yeah," Dearka walked up and patted him on the back. "Didn't stealing that mascot end up paying off in the end?"
"I guess… but isn't this all a little much?"
"Let me have a look?" Dearka held out his hand and Athrun passed him his schedule form. "Wow. You really thought you'd make it into advanced mech? And physics with the only native English-speaking teacher? You really should have camped out."
"How long have you all been here?" Athrun asked as Dearka handed back his form.
"Hmph. Only the truly strong will survive on this battlefield," Yzak harrumphed as he downed a can of an energy drink. "I came right back after I finished my homework and spent the night on patrol!"
"I haven't moved from this spot for almost ten hours!" Yzak crushed the can in his fist, a look of angry glee in his pale gray eyes. He slammed the can against his forehead with a screaming growl.
Athrun backed away from Yzak and into the spot that the Strike armor occupied. A last round of applause heralded his entry into the line.
"Looks like you've got your share of admirers," Nicol admiringly exclaimed.
"Yeah, probably more than my share of detractors, too." He looked a little further down the line, and even though their eyes didn't meet, Athrun saw the disappointed look in Lacus' crystalline eyes.To be continued…